As much as we would like to think of ourselves as the perfect catch many times and start looking excuses of how others constantly trigger us, and we do nothing to provoke a reaction, or start judging everything that others do, but justify what we do, we all have a good amount of emotions to handle, some people are more open and have invested more time in knowing themselves others love to live thinking that the external circumstances and people are the effect of their victimized life! Whichever side you fall into, we all need to constantly work on our emotional state and it is a life time adventure.
Of course that everyone would love to take a pill, without any side effects, in the morning and guarantee that they will have amazing days, and there’s no effort, there’s no catch, just one single pill that solves everything! Well, let me give the bad news, there are no such pills and there will never be one, however here are the good news, there are many tools available for you to start creating self-awareness, to allow you to be responsible, to guide you and to help you illuminate the road you have to chose most of your days, but there are some requirements for you to be able to achieve that more enlightened path of self-control and self-regulation, and they are:
You have to be willing to commit with yourself;
You need to have a student mentality;
You need to be open to changes in your life;
You must be accountable for your thoughts, your mood, your behaviors;
You have to acquire and execute your patience;
I guess pretty much those are the most important requirements to engage yourself in the path of self-regulation, self-discovery, and one day probably be able to control, regulate and act a lot more accurately than you have done it and discover that life is such a beautiful journey where you need all the flavors, all the seasons and all the “obstacles” to grow and to fulfill your own purpose which mostly is to be of service minimum to your family and be able to help the ones you’re willing during your own journey!
Emotions involve a series of internal changes that result in external actions that have—on balance—proven advantageous for humans over the long sweep of evolutionary history. Specifically, emotions are generated in a series of stages that include attending to a situation, giving it a valenced meaning, and producing a loosely coupled set of experiential, behavioral, and physiological responses (1).
Although emotions differ in many ways, several features are shared by most emotions. First, emotions are generated when an attended situation is interpreted as being central to one’s goals, including personal (e.g., avoid loss), social (e.g., help another individual), and cultural (e.g., support patriotism) goals. Second, emotions involve loosely coupled changes in multiple domains, including subjective experience, behavior, and physiology (1).
These multisystem changes can be characterized by describing (a) the intensity or the magnitude of the response, (b) the duration or the amount of time the response is active, (c) the frequency or the number of times the response occurs within a given period, and (d ) the type or the category of the response. Third, emotions are not ballistic entities that must proceed to completion. Instead, they can be adjusted to suit one’s needs in a given situation. This feature of emotions allows for their modification or regulation (1).
As exposed by research, our emotions are tools, they shouldn’t be taken as enemies or random feelings that just pop out of your psyche, they are produced because there were previous thoughts, they also rely on past experiences and finally and the most important point they are perceptions, if let’s say the glass of your lenses is fogged or tainted then of course your perception will be completely different to what the event or interaction really meant or how it really happened!
If we really pay attention to the structure of how the emotion is being produced we could be able to assemble sort of a diagram or “self-awareness checklist” that will allow you to be more prepared for future encounters, interactions and eventually it will be your favorite tool to know yourself deeply and stop reacting to your environment:
Be objective when perceiving the experience, as soon as you start feeling reactive try to see why?; ask yourself Why?
Recall the past experience or behavior that made you assign a different value to the experience;
Asses the meaning of the experience or interaction, prepare yourself for mostly every experience and try to see the value objectively;
Write in a diary, can be electronically in your notes, the experience, the past behavior and the value; this simple exercise will allow to see things as they really happened and allow you to see more clearly why it happened and if you’re able to assign a positive value or you’re already biased towards a negative outlook with those experiences;
Once you arrive to your house and at least 2 hours before going to bed or 1 hour change the experience to positive, describe what would have been a better reaction form yourself, and little by little that will be the new software to be installed, that’s why we’re doing it at night..so you sleep on the positive behavior;
Ideally at the end of a week give yourself some 10-15 minutes to analyze if those emotions are being repeated and take them out to work with them next week ..but with a positive outlook, that means changing the negative action to the positive result you want!;
Repeat this process every day that you feel some emotion is trapped in your system (mind) and you need and want to let it go;
If we are honest in a week at least this process should be performed 2-3 days per week, why are we doing this every week and sometimes every other day, because is a cleaning phase, it is as brushing your teeth, your mind needs to get rid off those ruminating emotions gradually so you don’t start building up and creating a mood or worst a personality trait;
Emotion regulation is defined when there is an activation of a goal that recruits one or more processes to influence emotion generation. The target of this regulatory goal can be to induce a change in the person who experiences the emotion (intrinsic) or to induce a change in someone else (extrinsic), as when parents help their children regulate emotions. The regulatory goal can promote hedonic motivation to feel less negative or more positive in the short term, or it can promote instrumental motivation such as modifying emotions in ways that promote long-term objectives . The regulatory goal can be explicit, involving deliberate and effortful processes, or implicit, involving unconscious and effort-less processes (1).
The sequence proposed by researchers to be able to succeed at regulating the emotions can be simplified in 5 steps which encompass the next stages (1):
Situation Selection — This means being aware of what are you going to be faced with, preparation stage, which sometimes can be avoiding some situations that you have previously tried to adapt or change but it doesn’t always depend on you, such as being in contact with toxic people;
Situation Modification — This means you can previously adapt to a situation taking the decision to shorten the time, or modify your environment, let’s say you go to a social gathering which you know you are only comfortable to be “functional” for 2 hours but your wife wants to stay longer (let’s say 4-6 hours) well you have two choices either you go and get out after 2-3 hours or you go the complete length of time but you take something with you to be comfortable, a book, your computer whatever you need, careful if you do that, excuse yourself and go to another place to work or relax! Don’t be a party pooper at the table and immersed in your phone.
Attentional Deployment — This is when you know some situations are very difficult for you to handle, such as maybe talking about of politics or religion, this can be handled by having a distraction of your attention, so maybe you can handle 5 minutes of the topic and then deviate the discussion towards something else, or in that case apply a modification as well and better politely excuse yourself from the argument and go read something or watch something;
Cognitive Change — This is the stage were you completely change the past experiences you’ve had and maybe you were triggered but now apply the positive outcome written and programmed in your mind with the “self-regulation checklist” and now is the time to apply that positive outcome that you want to generate, this means acting with your best self behavior!
Response Modulation — Finally you arrive to let’s say a celebration stage were you able to observe yourself as an external source of the emotion, and appreciate, self recognize and reward your behavior because you succeeded and you behave to the expectations that you previously created, something that many people around will start noticing and that eventually will be your external reward that you are now changing and behaving differently.
Emotions shouldn’t be taken carelessly or lightly, becoming a slave of them, or looking for external excuses or justifications to put the responsibility in others and usually not in you, the moment you grab the handles or the wheel of your life and start using tools to become a better version is the moment that you’re no longer a victim and now you’re the creator of your experiences, of your thoughts, and of course of your emotions!
Doesn’t seems easy? Probably not at the beginning, as everything in life, starting is the hardest phase sometimes, however what’s the alternative, being a handful of stress all the time, reacting more and more until you damage more your inner health and probably the people around you, setting a poor example for your children that you’re not in control of yourself? You name it ! Every alternative that you might want to look for will look worst than owning your abilities, because you are able to change the course of your emotional issues, you are able to own them and control them, and you can see it as a game if you’d like !
The game is called “Inside Out” yes just like the movie on the picture for this article, if you engage in your Level 1 of the game, then adopt that mentality and be a rookie player, allow yourself patience, don’t become now a harsh judge of your actions, as in any game, the first attempts will lead you probably to earn few points or none, but you’re now in the game and the control is in your hands. If you want to push yourself for the level 2, earn the points week by week, nobody is rushing and you don’t have to beat any record, but the one of feeling better with yourself. Level 3, you’re responsible for feeling better nothing external has the ability to break your patience or your clear goal, you are starting to get the bonus points, the extra gadgets that will jump you to the Level 4. On that Level 4, now the exception will be when you react, and you will know the path to trace back where did you get lost or why you fail, but you will do it with patience, with ownership and you will be able to even design your own route map for the next encounter. Finally arriving to Level 5 where you are an expert on the game, sort of saying, and you’re completely in control of your emotions, if you have a stone in your road, a detour, you’ll be able to handle it with mastery and almost nothing will be able to disturb your peace, however don’t be arrogant or believe you’re more than anyone because that can lead you to even go back to level 2 or 3 and literally loose your place. However, you’re able to start again and not from the ground!
In the end that is life, a series of experiences and encounters, that will allow to have more clarity on ourselves, life is not designed for you to suffer or for your to change anyone, is designed specifically for you to find your own answers, your paths and of course, sometimes there are ups and sometimes there are downs but that is the flavor, if everything were straight, easy and predictable what would be the point of being alive, you would get bored, you would even be triggered by that monotony and prediction level, so there’s has to be a balance of positive and negative outcomes, and yes, we are here to learn to reduce the negatives, but they will be there sometimes, because it is in those moments were you extract most of the lessons, most of your knowledge, it is in those times were you are “tested” to see if you’ve learned or you’re just playing along, so don’t worry, no one is sending you the bad experiences, many of them are consequences, and the others are just checking points for you to step up and move through them, but guess what? They come with a huge bonus ..they allow you to be a better version each time you pass them! And they give you even more points if you’re able to help others, extend a hand and help them cross the obstacles without expectations !!
So cheer yourself up! And allow yourself to be more the observer and less the critic of your life! The more you appraise, observe, extract meaning, evaluate, execute and modulate what you’re doing, the clearer the path will be, the less clouds you will have, and the more light you will have for the rest of the road.
But, if you insist on being the victim, on being the one that is punished, the one with the rainy cloud over his/her head, then the more likely you’ll attract more negative experiences that will validate your hypothesis. In the same context, whenever you want to look outside for responsible people, pay attention to the four fingers that are pointing you back at you, and instead start tracking what was the reason you lost your patience or you let others triggered you. Usually it has to do with something back in your childhood or teenage years, or even better has to do with someone else’s thinking and patterns (your parents, family, friends or teachers) but is not yours and therefore it doesn’t have any power over you!
There are also additional tools that I have been mentioning in several past articles, journaling, listening to your inner voice, exercise and physical activity, meditation, visualization, synchronizing heart and brain, paying attention to what you eat, all of those are the powerful assets that can and will give you, let’s say “super powers” to walk the path with more confidence and also they will be your shields to rely when things get tough, so just take a plunge in the information and use it to create your new lifestyle!
In Summary, prepare yourself for your next stages in life, allow yourself to be a student, be flexible with your own dogmas or patterns, identify the things that bother you, that you would like to have more control over them, design your own checklist with the tools provided, practice every other day, evaluate yourself weekly, allow to have patience with yourself most of all at the beginning, but along the way too!, you will be getting the “secrets” of your own life and you will be depending less on randomness or chaos to be able to justify your past victim state, from now on you’re the creator, you’re the designer of your life! And soon, you’ll be the master of your own emotional map!
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Sheppes, G., Suri, G., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 11(1), 379–405.